Why Kae Tempest is the shit.

Eden
3 min readMay 25, 2021

The Epic is a genre of poetry I haven’t ever taken a shine to. No offence to Walt Whitman- I’m sure the rest of Song of Myself is bloody lovely, I just felt my soul leaving my body at section forty. However, I stumbled upon Let Them Eat Chaos (an 80 page epic poem by Kae Tempest) in a Waterstones in Camberley in 2017 and almost lost my mind- partly because it was all one poem but also its location on a dusty bookshelf in my unremarkable and admittedly painfully right winged hometown. Let me just tell you that Let Them Eat Chaos is a triumph. Its length can be off-putting at first glance, but if you’re lazy you can also sit back and listen to the studio album version where the spoken word artist separates the epic into thirteen tracks and my god, they’ve got the greatest voice — could I just have EVERY AUDIOBOOK EVER read by Kae Tempest, please?

Tempest does not concern themselves with subtlety nor should they. Their writing is provocative, punchy and thoughtful as they grab us with both hands and we are plunged into the cold streets of London at 4.18 am and engulfed in the stories of seven different strangers. During the first few pages we are sat with Esther- a worried carer just back from a double shift. She can’t switch off because she’s worried about the state of the world (as time goes on this only gets more fitting). In the album version, Tempest titled this section Europe is Lost where they recount the madness of today’s society. This is not merely a story; this is a protest. Tempest bites back against police brutality in the line “Ghettoised children murdered in broad daylight/ By those employed to protect them.” Their commentary is both witty and sharp and each line deserving of its own paragraph “Now it’s back to the House of Lords with slapped wrists/ They abduct kids who fuck the heads of dead pigs/ But him in the hoodie with a couple of spliffs? Jail him, he’s the criminal.”

Not only concerned with the state of the world, they also muse over heartbreak and dating culture. The track Grubby tells the story of Pious, a woman awake after a one night stand and reflecting over a lost love that she can’t seem to shake off, “This is my mind, get out of it. You didn’t want it how come you’re still hanging around in it?” Pious is both mournful and scorned as she recounts a lover who mistreated her. Through a haunting repetition Tempest reminds us what it is like to live with a ghost, “I’m thinking of you and the things you do to me.”

Let Them Eat Chaos is maybe not what you’d pick up on an idle Tuesday. I know that Climate change, celebrity culture, gentrification and political corruption seem a lot for one poem, but trust me. The shelves in bookshops, the internet and many pubs and bars (pre Covid, of course) are filled with brilliantly crafted spoken word poetry, but there is a reason that Tempest landed a spot on BBC 2. It is not just the woes of a liberal craving a better world, it is a voice both poignant and clear demanding us to see the flaws in humanity and reminding us to reach out to each other.

I still find myself picking apart my copy all the time and even if there isn’t a revolution coming anytime soon, at least there’s Kae Tempest.

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Eden

A place to put everything that I don't know what to do with.